America may not love unions—certainly not the way some countries do—but it doesn’t hate them either.
Yesterday, I wrote that unions play an essential role in a healthy economy by helping to resolve problems between labor and management and giving ordinary workers a stake in the success of their business. The fight over whether to strip public sector unions of their collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin—and now in Ohio as well—shows that not everyone agrees. But the truth is that Wisconsin governor Scott Walker and Ohio governor John Kasich may have made a huge mistake in thinking that unions would be a popular target. Because while Americans may not love everything unions do, they generally don’t want to destroy them either.
As Paul Krugman says, you might not know it to listen to most political commentators, but polls say that Americans don’t support what Walker and Kasich are doing. A recent New York Times/CBS poll found that while just a small plurality view unions favorably on balance, 60% of Americans oppose actually stripping public sector unions of their bargaining rights, compared to 33% who favor it. By nearly as large a margin, most Americans opposed cutting the pay and benefits of public sector employees. In fact, 61% thought that what we pay public employees was either about right or too low. And, if it comes down to it, more Americans would prefer to raise taxes than to cut the pay and benefits of public employees.
Now a new Rasmussen poll finds that while voters in Wisconsin favor pay cuts to public employees, most are against weakening collective bargaining rights and most side with the Democrats against Governor Walker. The reality, of course, is that while the budget deficits in Wisconsin and elsewhere have little to do with how much public sector employees are paid, the people who work in the public sector are going to have to make some sacrifices. The unions want to get the best deal possible for the people they represent, but they have already agreed to make substantial concessions. Americans may not love everything unions do—and may not want to give unions everything they want—but we're still not ready to take away unions right to represent workers entirely.
Photo credit: Justin Ormont